Ag Workers Among Those Most at Risk to COVID-19 Death

Len Wilcox California Corner, COVID-19, Research

© Florida Department of Citrus

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that food-service, agricultural and construction workers were among the most at-risk for dying from exposure to COVID-19.

The study points out high-density workplaces in any industry are possibly high risk. The close proximity of employees in high-density workplaces creates a high risk for transmission of coronavirus disease. The high-density workplaces in food processing, food manufacturing and agriculture employ over 3.6 million persons.

The report adds that several factors contribute to workplace and community transmission, including prolonged close contact with coworkers, congregate housing, shared transportation and frequent community contact among workers.

Previous studies have characterized COVID-19 among meat- and poultry-processing workers. This study looked at COVID-19 among workers in other food manufacturing and agriculture workplaces and updated information on COVID-19 among meat- and poultry-processing workers.

According to the report, Hispanic or Latino, Black and Asian/Pacific Islander workers in these workplaces might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Among those with COVID-19 for whom race or ethnicity data were reported, 72.8 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 6.3 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 4.1 percent were non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander. Among all food manufacturing and agriculture workers in 28 states reporting race and ethnicity data, 36.5 percent of workers are Hispanic or Latino, 52.6 percent are non-Hispanic White, 5.9 percent are non-Hispanic Black, 3.5 percent are non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander and 1.5 percent are of other non-Hispanic race or ethnicity groups.

The report concludes that reducing workplace exposures is critical for protecting workers in food processing, food manufacturing and agriculture workplaces and might help reduce health disparities among disproportionately affected populations. Adherence to workplace-specific intervention and prevention efforts, including engineered controls, such as physical distancing; administrative controls, such as proper sanitation, cleaning and disinfection; and providing personal protective equipment likely would protect both workers and surrounding communities.

“In-person essential workers are unique in that they are not protected by shelter-in-place policies. Indeed, our study shows that excess mortality rose sharply in the food/agriculture sector during the state’s first shelter-in-place period, from late March through May; these increases were not seen among those working in non-essential sectors. Complementary policies are necessary to protect those who cannot work from home,” the study’s authors wrote.

“These can and should include: free personal protective equipment, clearly defined and strongly enforced safety protocols, easily accessible testing, generous sick policies and appropriate responses to workplace safety violations.”

The study said vaccine distribution plans need to prioritize in-person essential workers in order to reduce the excess COVID-19 mortality.

“Shutdown policies by definition do not protect essential workers and must be complemented with workplace modifications and prioritized vaccine distribution,” according to the authors.

See the full study here.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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